Words by Ben Falk
How did you break into movie props?
I’d never even thought about working in film and television. I met an American guy in a pub who said he had thirty grand to make a movie. He’d written a script. So we went and made a movie called Miss Monday. I started not knowing [what I wanted to do], doing everything. Designing and building the sets, going to skips and raiding prop houses.
Then I worked for four months for no money working on a feature film called Siamese Cop. I was signing on and making the movie at the same time. The whole art department from Siamese Cop pretty much went on as a group to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. I did standby on that. That was the really the first time I did standby work.
What is standby props?
It means you’re responsible for all the environments and all the action props that the actors are going to be handling. Anything from a gun to a bottle of beer, to a pencil. You have to keep on top of that to make sure they’re using the same pencil. If they go off to lunch and take their props with them – that happens quite a lot – you have to go and get the props back if you’re using the same ones in the afternoon scene. I really enjoy working with the actors. That’s where I like to be, next to the camera to see how the film is made, at the coal face.
How long did it take between Siamese Cop and Lock, Stock...?
About two years. I was just trying to make a living. My day job was a sculptor working in a studio, making even less than I was in the movies!
What skills do you need to be a good prop person?
You need to have a certain amount of practical skill, for example how to hang a picture. You have to have a good eye and you need to be able to carry things. There’s a lot of unloading and loading lorries. And attention to detail.
Is it a tough job?
When you’re standby, you’ve got to have your foot on the accelerator from the moment you arrive until the moment you leave. You’re concentrating constantly, it’s very intense. Some of the most difficult scenes are food scenes where you’re having to replenish plates. I did standby props on Sexy Beast and Ray Winstone ate over 15 full English breakfasts. Each one has to look identical. He’s really good at prop work, but some actors are terrified of props. If you put something in their hand, they don’t know what to do with it.
Would you do anything differently to get where you are today?
On Lock, Stock, I’m credited as on-set advanced rigger, even though I was dealing with all the props. I would never have called myself an on-set advanced rigger! And these things stick with you. People look at your credits and assume that’s what you do, so make sure you get the correct credit for your work.
Was it fun working on The Inbetweeners 2?
The four guys are great. In terms of their props, they were always quite respectful.
There's quite a notorious faeces scene in the movie. Was that one of your props?!
(laughs) I’m not the s*** wrangler. I managed to skirt that.
We always hear about actors going home with cool stuff from the set at the end of the shoot. Is that true of you too?
I’ve got quite a few [props] in my house. At the end, they often sell props off. I think I’ve got the best prop from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. It’s the sign from Harry the Hatchet’s door, which is great.
The Inbetweeners 2 is in cinemas now.